Is The Paid-Article Website Dead?

I was doing some varied reading this morning and stumbled across this article by Paul Graham. I want to highlight this passage:

"We now have several examples to prove that amateurs can surpass professionals, when they have the right kind of system to channel their efforts. Wikipedia may be the most famous. Experts have given Wikipedia middling reviews, but they miss the critical point: it's good enough. And it's free, which means people actually read it. On the web, articles you have to pay for might as well not exist. Even if you were willing to pay to read them yourself, you can't link to them. They're not part of the conversation."

It pretty much sums up what I've been thinking for some time about sites with paid-for articles. Do they have any future at all? I was interested to see Rupert Murdoch placing his hopes on a paid-for future. He's arguing that free news sites are dead. Can't say I agree with that. I'm sure they'll be different to what we've been used to in the past.

When I'm searching for technical topics, I have to say that every time I see a link to a site I know is paid, I don't think "I must join that site some time", I simply automatically skip over their content. A good indication on Google is page caching. Google will happily turn off page caching for paid-for sites. I wish they had an option to simply leave them out of my results set. When I'm searching for results, any page I see that doesn't have a cached page available, is probably no longer of interest to me.

I think Paul's last sentence is the most telling: "They're not part of the conversation". You can't build a buzz or discussion around something that people have to pay to see.

What this does raise is the question on how technical content will be generated in future. Is our future one that's full of "good enough" technical articles too? Or is advertising the only way forward, much as we might wish it wasn't?

8 thoughts on “Is The Paid-Article Website Dead?”

  1. >>
    every time I see a link to a site I know is paid, I don't think "I must join that site some time", I simply automatically skip over their content.
    I am absolutely 100% the same way.  By way of being an MVP I could get a free membership to the most notoriously annoying of them, but I decline.  I just don't feel right encouraging paid-for sites that in many cases just have copies of articles that are free elsewhere.

  2. Hi Greg,
      A couple thoughts…
      Sites can generate revenue without charging subscription fees. This isn't a new idea, a lot of the diminishing print publications are surviving in this manner. (Some have always survived via advertising.)
      "Pay" is an interesting term. The transfer of capital can take many forms – all of which directly or indirectly lead to economic transfer of wealth.
    :{> Andy

  3. Hi Andy,
    Yes, I suspect that advertising is the main option here. Rather than "user" pays, I think we still need another model for funding content.
    Alternately, efforts like SQLServerPedia that Brent has been putting in place might well be the future of all such content.

  4. Is it really good enough? I randomly opened an article on sqlserverpedia. Enjoy:
    "SQL Server supports nesting transactions, however, writing nested transactions is usually not a good idea. The problem with nested transactions is that ROLLBACK and COMMIT statements affect multiple open transactions. Nested transactions usually occur when one stored procedure begins a transaction and then calls other procedures also using transactions before commiting the initial transaction. However, a single stored procedure could also have multiple transactions open at the same time.
    Despite the common belief that nested transaction problems can be mitigated by using named transactions, ROLLBACK and COMMIT statements don't behave as you would expect from the first glance. ROLLBACK TRANSACTION only maintains the name of the outermost transaction ; if you try rolling back any transaction except the outermost one, your statement will fail. The COMMIT TRAN statement, on the other hand will not fail; however, it will only commit the inner transaction, without releasing the exclusive locks until the outermost transaction is explicitly committed or rolled back. If the outermost transaction is rolled back, then all inner transactions are also rolled back, regardless of whether or not you previously committed the inner transactions. "
    Do you think that reading this good enough article was worth your time?

  5. Although there is abundance of free information online, plenty of customers willingly pay for high quality information. Consider Wall Street Journal, which seems to be doing very well. Go to their website, most articles are for subscribers only. But their articles are their own content and they are high quality indeed.
    I am willing to pay for high quality information which is interesting to me. Me and my team read books by Itzik Ben Gan, Adam Machanic, Kalen Delaney, and other excellent authors, and paying money for the books is a form of saying thank you to the authors for their excellent work. But we do not subscribe to sites that charge money for aggregating free content, as we do not need this service.
    As long as we work with the technology, we would rather pay for high quality work than waste our time reading low quality free articles. However, I disagree with Jonathan Kehayias – unlike him, I am not saying that all free articles are of low quality. He had a blog post some time ago where he stated that articles from paid magazines should be trusted more than blog posts.

  6. Alex – sorry that the random article you opened wasn't worth your time.  I totally understand that for experts like you and me, not every article is going to be of value.  Sometimes beginners have different interests than the more senior guys.
    The cool part about SQLServerPedia, though, is that if you don't find an article useful, you can edit it – right now!  You can create an account and start improving things that you're not satisfied with, thereby making the transition from lurker to contributor.  I think you'll find it can be even more satisfying than leaving comments.
    Feel free to let me know if you've got questions about it, too.

  7. Alex: SQLServerPedia allows anyone to write content; the goal of that site is to get the Quest name into search engines by getting lots and lots of indexable text (a.k.a. keywords) onto the site. That's a big difference between it and this site: we don't sell anything, and only want lots of GREAT content, so we vet potential writers. And even with our system we've had some less-than-ideal content posted here. Nothing is perfect in the world of free content (nor in the world of paid content, but at least there you sometimes have articles that have been tech reviewed)…

  8. Hi Brent,
    I really like the other site you participated in creating,, and I enjoy contributing to that one. Regarding my previous comment, sorry I was not clear. The topic about nested transactions, or that in fact there are no nested transactions in Transact SQL, is very interesting. Yet this particular article IMO could be slightly improved. I do not think it is currently completely correct. This interesting topic deserves a fuller description.
    Challenge accepted ;).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *